2015 40Under40 Winner: Coltrane Curtis

Coltrane Curtis, Founder and Managing Partner, Team Epiphany
Yes, Curtis is named after saxophonist John Coltrane and, yes, his dad, John, was a huge jazz fan. That’s not all Curtis got from his dad, who was an ethnic marketing pioneer. What John taught Curtis about marketing continues to guide him and his wife and business partner Lisa Chu in helping brands as diverse as Cadillac, Evian, and HBO influence consumers. “He used to tell me, ‘You have to position yourself or others will position you,’ so whether we use social or an event to do it, it’s all about positioning the brand first.” Curtis advises brands to approach celebrity marketing with caution. “The chatter,” he says, “is often around the celebrity and the celebrity’s positioning instead of the brand’s.” Will the influence pass to another generation? Curtis and Chu’s three-year-old son has the proper start. His name is Ellington.

Defining moment: Working the floor at Ralph Lauren and progressing to Purple Label gave me a great understanding of the fashion business. It helped me to understand how to merge a brand with a celebrity or influencer to create an authentic relationship.

Words to live by: “You can make as many mistakes as you want, but don’t make the same mistake twice.”

Strategy shift: “Collaboration” is an overused buzzword that is losing value, so we limit collaborations. When we do bring brands together to create something powerful, it’s part of a brand strategy, not just an add-on.

Up next: I think people are going to go more analog, because they’re inundated in social. They’re so concerned with documenting the moment that they fail to experience it. I think you’ll see more value placed on physical and personal engagement—actual interaction versus pseudo-connectivity.

Advice to young marketers: Surround yourself with people who inspire you and challenge you.

–Al Urbanski

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